Chinese police adopt new form of self-defense
The other headline story in China over the last week has been the murder of 6 police officers in Shanghai. Yang Jia, an unemployed man originally from Beijing, attacked a public security office building, stabbing to death 6 officers.
All of this happened just as the Weng’an riot story itself became white hot, and the Chinese internet response was predictably extreme (and in my opinion, disgusting). After seeing local injustices, some Chinese netizens basically celebrated the attacks on the police. Yang was often described as one of the Robin Hood-type heroes forced to rebel in Outlaws of the Marsh (水浒传). Many simply assumed Yang acted for a reason, that previous police abuse was the reason for his anger; a rumor was spread that Yang had been beaten so badly his sex organs were injured.
The Shanghai public security ministry has been placed on the defensive, forced to explain whether Yang Jia was “justified” in his attack. Yesterday, Shanghai issued a 6-hour recording from an encounter last October, apparently the seed of Yang Jia’s anger (连接). Part of the transcript is translated below:
After a series of horn blasts, a middle aged man with a Shanghai accent (police officer) begins a dialog with a young man with a Beijing accent (Yang Jia).
Officer: Hey pal, please stop your bicycle for an examination!
Yang Jia: There are so many people on the road, why are you picking on me?
Officer: We will handle this one at a time. Please come off of your bicycle and accept police investigation, and show your bicycle license.
Yang Jia: I’m renting this bicycle.
Officer: Please hand over proof of rental to me. You’re holding it so far from me, how can I see it?
Yang Jia: If you can’t see, how are you supposed to enforce the law?
Officer: Please move your bicycle to the side!
Yang Jia: Why are you enforcing the law by investigating me?
Officer: Can you voluntarily tell me your name?
Yang Jia: What’s your excuse for wasting my time?
Officer: Let’s all respect each other a little!
Yang Jia: Don’t talk to me about respect. Respect what?
Officer: We’re proceeding with the law, please cooperate with our investigation!
Yang Jia: Which clause is allowing you to restrict my personal freedom?
Officer: Can you voluntarily tell me where you are from?
Yang Jia: I won’t.
Officer: Can you voluntarily tell me your name?
Yang Jia: You don’t have any excuse for wasting my time. What’s your excuse for wasting my time? Is this based on law? Bring out the law, you have it memorized! This is how you restrict my personal freedoms, what’s your excuse?
Officer: This is called mutual respect.
Yang Jia: Don’t talk about that. Mutual respect? What the hell is mutual respect? What’s there to respect?
Officer: We’re proceeding under the law…
Yang Jia: Law? What law? You have the balls to talk to me about the law, what law gives you the reason to grab my documents like this without reason? How can you restrict my personal freedom?
Officer: Don’t scream at me. If you have something to say, you can say it. If you believe I have done something wrong, you can …
Yang Jia: Of course you are wrong, look here, 1342 (officer badge number), explain this to me. Why are you in front of so many people checking my documents and restricting my freedom? Why aren’t you holding back the others, but only me? You don’t have any reason..
I wouldn’t recommend anyone repeat the above conversation with an American police officer; the consequences would be ugly. This kind of confrontation isn’t uncommon in China; many people couldn’t care less about authority, which is why I can’t help but laugh when China is described by some as a “police state”.
I am not going to make any guesses about exactly what happened in Yang Jia’s case; we do know that he didn’t steal the bike he was riding, it was a rental, as verified by the police department. But we still don’t have many details about exactly what happened in the police department after he was detained, or in subsequent months. Although the Shanghai police promised a 6 hour recording was only available, we only have the above very short transcript. We will have to wait for the media to get to the bottom of the story (and yes, I enjoy being able to say that with some confidence it will happen).
Regardless, I strongly doubt anything could be direct justification for this man’s actions. But the reactions from other Chinese netizens show the difficult challenge facing China today. As Willy Lam says in the Asia Sentinel, there are “Cracks in China’s Armor”. (Google News shows the title of that article as ‘Chinks in China’s Armor’… probably a good thing they revised the title.) The lack of credibility for government institutions after two decades of hiding discontent is a real problem in modern China.
But what I think is most remarkable here is that this transcript and recording exists at all. The Shanghai government is obviously aware that in order to defend their credibility, government institutions must be more transparent, and must make themselves available for “supervision”. Facing a public relations battle, this transparent credibility is their best form of self-defense: apparently, the Shanghai police department has been recording everything their officers do for the past five years. Here’s an explanation from a post on MITBBS (原贴):
All Shanghai duty police officers (traffic police, patrol police, emergency responders to 110) have, since 2003, been recording all audio while on duty (from the moment they come on shift until the moment they come off). All recordings are preserved for at least 30 days. Every unit with a service counter, as well as every unit with a conference room, on-duty room, and inquiry rooms are under 24 hour video surveillance. Normally, the leadership and “functional” divisions (ed: something similar to Internal Affairs in the US) are constantly randomly checking these recordings. When a complaint or lawsuit is filed, prosecutors and regulators can immediately access these recordings. Otherwise, those coming in contact with the police can inform the relevant official within the first 30 days that these recordings must be preserved. The justice system and attorneys can then request the recordings.
All conference rooms, service counters, inquiry rooms, shift rooms are under remotely controlled video monitoring (controlled by the main city public security bureau). Everything is automatically recorded and transmitted 24 hours a day. The units where these cameras are installed can request a playback, but have no other way of controlling the system (i.e. shutting down cameras or erasing footage). The portable recording units carried by officers can not be privately turned off; doing so will cause a new document to be created. Anyone with more than two recordings in a single shift must provide a written explanation to the local command center. If multiple recordings were created because of operator error or drained batteries, and the command center was not immediately notified, the officer receives a yellow warning; if an officer can’t explain the reason for multiple recordings, they receive an orange warning. If there’s an indication that the officer intentionally turned off the device to escape monitoring, they will absolutely receive a red warning.
These warnings are handled this way: an officer with more than two orange warnings per year, or a single red warning, their annual review will show they could meet only basic standards (or failure to meet basic standards). Every warning comes with a 400 – 1200 RMB fine. For officers with an annual review that only meets “basic standards”, you will receive an additional 15000-20000 RMB fine. For officers that fail to meet basic standards, your salary will be cut heavy, and you have the risk of being fired.
Most Chinese netizens on Tianya were also surprised that this exists in China. Others have reported that at least Shenzhen have similar requirements, although perhaps not quite as harsh and comprehensive.
The implications of these recordings are becoming obvious. The Shanghai public security bureau will probably have to release recordings involving Yang Jia in full (at least in court, if not in public)… and there will be an objective record of whatever confrontation that happened in their offices. And combining this with new rules on release of information, it should mean the Chinese public should be able to request information like this in just about any case.
And it’s perhaps because of Shanghai’s proactive regulation that the debate hasn’t been purely one-sided. Many Shanghai residents on Tianya joined together to insist that police officers in Shanghai aren’t corrupt or abusive as they often are in other cities, and they deeply mourned the dead officers. (Incidentally, Yang Jia’s Myspace page is available here; a sensitive guy with a photo album full of flowers and nature. For now, we can only wonder what led him to his actions.)
This sort of open transparency and supervision is exactly what China needs, and it’s the best defense for a Chinese police force facing assault from all directions.
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